Wendell Pierce on Christmas in New Orleans

The Big Easy knows how to celebrate – even when Mardi Gras is months away.

As trombonist Antoine Batiste in HBO’s Treme, Wendell Pierce took us inside the life of a New Orleans musician – and drew on his personal experience as a Pontchartrain Park-born lifelong entertainer. The role didn’t just bring the 48-year-old actor more accolades, it brought him home from Baltimore, where he made a name for himself playing Bunk on The Wire. That was fine by Pierce, a Crescent City loyalist, who’d just as soon be hanging on Frenchman Street – especially this time of year.

Pierce gives Maxim his recommendations for Christmas in New Orleans, a time when the the trumpets and and trombones get mixed in with the sound of sleigh bells. 

How does New Orleans do Christmas?

For New Orleans, Christmas is a big deal. We take these big 100-year-old oak trees in City Park and decorate them, with a nightly celebration in the oaks with music and food, and rides. This happens throughout the season. When you come home, there are great music concerts: Home for The Holidays is a big concert that is sponsored by the New Orleans Center for The Creative Arts, which is a performing arts high school. So there’s a lot of good music, but you can’t do New Orleans without a lot of good food. We have Reveillon dinners, these classic Creole-French dining menus that come up every holiday season. So there’s music, food, and celebration.

What’s one thing you can’t miss during the holiday season?

Preservation Hall. In the midst of all the craziness of the French Quarter, just one set at Preservation Hall – you want to make that. And hit up Frenchman Street – I’m a big music fan, so just heading to the live clubs to see music, just club hop on Frenchman Street every night. You want to do that.

What if you want to get away from some of the craziness?

To get away from that, if you want, just take a ride on a streetcar and head uptown and have a quiet dinner at Gautreau’s, it’s classic. It’s like going to a French bistro in the middle of New Orleans.

Last year, Treme finished its run on HBO, and it gave such a unique and intimate take on your hometown. Do you feel like you were able to finish telling all the stories you wanted to, or are there still more out there? 

There’s a lot more stories out there in New Orleans. But the thing about Treme that was very special, what made it one of the most unique projects ever on television was the merger of real documentary writing alongside fictionalized characters to highlight the message of New Orleans. We created this fictionalized documentary style where both the real and unreal were honored equally. It was therapeutic for the city. People have been able to look at it and see how far they’ve come  since Katrina — it’s really a cultural document of where we were during New Orleans’ darkest hour. Of how we used music and culture to lift us up – that’s what I’m most proud of about Treme.

Photos by Skip Bolen / HBO / Everett Collection